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How did the social distribution of literacy skills vary in early modern Britain, and what are the implications of that variation

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Introduction

How did the social distribution of literacy skills vary in early modern Britain, and what are the implications of that variation? Basic literacy skills today are seen as a tradition; only those at a very serious social disadvantage do not have any. Yet, this was not the view in modern Britain. Literacy was uneven and very variable, education directed to a certain part of society, mostly those who were rich. I will determine how the social distribution of literacy skills varied, including not only different social class, but between gender, occupation and geographically. However, many historians disagree on just how reliable the sources we have to determine this distribution are, as I will discuss later. I will also discuss what the implications of these variations are. To begin, I will look at the literacy rate amongst the population in general and how it varied between the period. The historian J.A. Sharpe believes in the 16th Century, there was a growth in literacy, seen as there was a major increase in output of printing press, which in turn suggests a demand for print. Where, between 1570-1640, there were 300,000 titles published annually.1 Sharpe goes on to state the fact almanacs sold at a rate of 400,000 a year shows there were strong signs in education and literacy.2 Yet, Historians argue there was not a consistent increase in literacy from the 16th to the 17th Century, such as David Cressy and Roda O'Day. She argues; 'where enthusiasm for education was not a constant but a variable', thus in the 16th Century literacy was viewed as a cure for social problems, whereas in the 17th Century it was viewed it caused them.3 This can be seen in the rise of education in the Elizabethan era, where the yeoman, husbandmen and tradesmen all improved their levels to active literacy, but the yeoman stayed the same until 1630s. ...read more.

Middle

Thus, I think there were not too many implications of this social distribution as it is evident some women were literate. However, one implication is it heightens the gap between the urban, elite women and the rural, lower class women. Another social distribution is geographically. To begin with, those in cities were significantly more literate than in rural areas. The signature rates for London and Cheshire in 1640s were 78% and 48% respectively, compared to national average of 30%.22 The reason for London having such a high rate is because the majority of elite live there, as there is the Inns of Courts there. Also, L.Stone states the South had higher literacy rates, 60%, than the North, 15-20%.23 Yet, Cressy argues there was high literacy in areas near London, i.e. Hertfordshire was 74% illiterate and Berkshire 74%.24 Indeed, closely linked parishes often varied in rates. I.E, Cornish parishes' literacy rate arranged from 50% to 6%. It is shown cities have higher rates of literacy than towns and towns than villages; seen in Newcastle where 80% literate in towns, compared to 50% in Village.25 This demonstrates the difference geographically literacy rates were, urban areas more literate than rural. The implications of this distribution is the urban areas, in particular the cities, were becoming more centralised and more detached from the rural areas. As the South was more literate than the North, England was almost being split in half, meaning there was not an equal distribution of educated individuals. Thus the more illiterate places will be poorer economically and in worst physically, as they lack educated people, such as doctors. There has always been a debate on whether quantitative or qualitative evidence is better to help determine how social distribution of literacy varied. ...read more.

Conclusion

pp 310 14 Thomas Tyron, Source 1 in Study pack, 1705, 15 Wrightson, K, 'English Society, 1580-1680', 1982, pp35 16 O'Day, R, 'Education and society', 1982, pp 21 17 Sharpe, J.A, 'Early Modern England,', 1987, pp 280 18 Cressy, D, 'Literacy in Context', in Porter, R and Brewer, J, 'Consumption and the world of goods', 1994, pp 314 19 Houston, R.A, 'Literacy in early modern Europe', 1998, pp 146 20 Cressy, D, 'Literacy in Context', in Porter, R and Brewer, J, 'Consumption and the world of goods', 1994, pp 314 21 Hosuton, 'Scottish literacy' pp 60 22 Reay, B, 'Popular cultures in England, 1550-1750,' 1998, pp 41-42 and Cressy, 'literacy and social order pp73 23 O'Day, R, 'Education and society', 1982, pp 18 24 Cressy, D, 'literacy and social order', pp 72-5 25 Reay, B, ''Popular cultures in England ', pp 41-42 26 Cressy, D, in O'Day, 'Education and society', 1982, pp 17 27 Reay, B, ''Popular cultures in England' pp 42 28 Ibid, pp 43 29 Sharpe, J.A, 'Early Modern England,', 1987, pp 277 30 Houston, R.A, 'Literacy in early modern Europe', 1998, pp 288 31 Spufford, M, in Reary, pp 47 32 Thomas, K, 'The meaning of literacy in early modern England,' in G. Baumann, 'the written word: literacy in transition', 1986, pp 103 33 Cressy, D, 'Literacy in Context', in Porter, R and Brewer, J, 'Consumption and the world of goods', 1994, pp 313 34 Reay, B, ''Popular cultures in England' pp 47 35 IBID pp 48 36 Spufford, M, in Reary, 'Popular cultures', pp 37 Vincent, L, 'Literacy and popular culture: England 1750-1914', 1989, pp 197-8 38 O'Day, R, 'Education and society', 1982, pp 22 39 Sharpe, J.A, 'Early Modern England,', 1987, pp 283 40 Ibid ?? ?? ?? ?? 1 ...read more.

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